The Motorola Xoom was the most advanced tablet that we got to try out at Mobile World Congress. Other tablets, including the HTC Flyer, certainly look promising, but the Xoom is the launch device for the Google Android Honeycomb OS – the version of Android developed specifically for tablets – and the devices on show at MWC were fully working ones used for live demonstrations.
Motorola marketing director Tom Satchwell gave us an indepth tour of the device, occasionally pulling out his very own Xoom to demonstrate a feature that he actively uses on it.
The Xoom certainly makes a compelling case for the Android tablet platform. The 10.1in screen device is being pitched by Motorola as a showcase for the Honeycomb “multitasking operating system” and it cruises along on a 2GHz Tegra 2 chipset and 1GB of RAM.
The 16GB tablet has a 16:10 physical aspect ratio, but the viewable area is 16:9 – the same as Blu-ray movies. An extra portion of the screen has been reserved for what Motorola terms a "persistent navigation bar". This saves the user constantly jabbing at a hardware button to go back, back and back through menu screens. Should you wish to use the Xoom for viewing a TV program, the navigation bar dims so as not to be distracting.
Other aspects we really took to include the support for 3D maps that Google has added to the Honeycomb interface and the Motorola Media Link function that "sucks DRM-free content from iTunes, for example, and on to the device". Motorola is not the only manufacturer to acknowledge the power of Apple iTunes and that consumers need reassurance that they won’t lose what they've invested in their iTunes music library by choosing an Android or non-iOS tablet.
However impressed we were by the Xoom, however, it was the Motorola Atrix 4G smartphone that showed where mobile technology might really be heading next.
The Atrix 4G first caught our eye on the ARM stand, where the smartphone with its dock had pride of place. The concept is that the smartphone is now the powerhouse and other elements – screen, keyboard, remote speakers and mouse – are subservient to it. The Atrix 4G dominates the screen that acts as its docking station so much that the attractive ultraportable display is known only in direct reference to it.
The smartphone pushes content out to whatever host device it pleases and flits nimbly between them, automatically resuming on one device where it last left off on the last, including displaying the last viewing web page or photo in an album. We don’t just mean from screen to screen either. You can move seamlessly from Atrix to Xoom to another connected device without missing a beat. And it’s the Atrix, rather than the tablet, that Motorola says is key here. The device will have its own accessories in the form of a speaker dock for entertainment – ARM’s James Bruce is already foretelling an aftermarket of third-party speaker makers leaping in here to build compatible docks.
If the smartphone really is today's computer – a mantra Nokia has been chanting for at least three years and that Motorola and others also adhere to – it seems strange to hide it behind a screen.
As well as having 4G connectivity – with Verizon putting 4G LTE networks in the major US cities this year, mobile broadband is about a huge jolt of extra power – the Atrix has as much memory as its tablet companion. The 16GB already onboard can be further boosted by the insertion of a 32GB SD Card, taking it to a mighty 48GB overall. If Nand flash memory can be used to augment the virtual memory, as it can on Windows laptops, this could be an interesting statement.
The Motorola Atrix 4G has 1GB of nVidia Tegra 2 dual-core processing power at its disposal, touts a 4in screen 960x540-pixels dense and has a MotoBlur overlay for direct access to Facebook, email , SMS and social media. Access to the device can be fingerprint recognition-controlled or use a PIN code (as per the Xoom). At launch, rumoured to be as soon as next week in the US, the Motorola Atrix 4G will run Android 2.2 Froyo.
Motorola’s Tom Satchwell was bullish about why anyone would specifically need the 2.3 Gingerbread version of Android found on the Google Nexus S smartphone, dismissing the power management and NFC (near field communications) of that OS update. However, he also added that “it will of course run Gingerbread later”.